Taking Law to the Stage

Author: Susan Good

Kaveny play story

The phrase “all the world’s a stage” became particularly relevant to a group of law and theology students taking Notre Dame Professor of Law and Professor of Theology M. Cathleen Kaveny’s seminar titled Faith, Morality, and the Law. The class met with performers from Tim Robbins’ The Actors’ Gang, a Los Angeles theatre troupe on campus to perform “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.”

“The play’s subject matter really illustrates the intersection of faith, morality, and the law,” says Kaveny, who will deliver a talk prior to two of the performances (February 12 at 6:15 p.m. and February 13 at 6:45 p.m.). The show tells the story of nine men and women who, in May 1968, entered the Selective Service Offices in Catonsville, Maryland, removed several hundred draft records, and burned them with homemade napalm in protest against the war in Vietnam. The nine were arrested and, in a highly publicized trial, sentenced to jail.

During the discussion, the actors reflected upon the challenges involved in portraying characters based on actual persons, some of whom are still alive, as well as their ideas on how to communicate the political tensions of an era that many in the audience do not remember. In turn, the law students and theology students commented on the difficulties that might be involved in being a Christian, a citizen, or a lawyer in our own time.

At the Law School, Kaveny teaches a number of seminars which explore the relationship between theology, philosophy, and law. One seminar, “Mercy and Justice,” explores those concepts using texts drawn from case law, analytic philosophy, Byzantine history, and both medieval and contemporary theology. Another seminar, “Ethics and Law at the End of Life,” looks at the issues of assisted suicide and euthanasia from an interdisciplinary perspective.

Professor Kaveny has published more than eighty articles and essays, in journals and books specializing in law, theology ethics, and medical ethics. A regular columnist for Commonweal, Kaveny also is on the roster of Newsweek/Washington Post’s “On Faith” web commentators, as well as a contributor to the New York Times’ “Room for Debate” online discussion. She is currently finishing a book entitled Prophetic Discourse in the Public Square.

More features